We sat down with Scott Graham, candidate for City Council in Ward 7, to talk about his background, why he decided to run, where he stands on a couple major issues like housing, public safety, and the Hennepin Avenue redesign, and more. This is part of a series of interviews of people running for City Council – if you have any questions or feedback, use the “Add Context” box at the bottom of this piece.
Southwest Voices: What made you decide to run for office?
Scott Graham: Well, I've been working in DFL politics for a really long time, as the Senate District chair of Senate District 61 and as a full-time employee at the DFL Party as the Party Affairs Director. I’m ready to step out into a more public role, run for office, and be on City Council.
SWV: What has surprised you so far about the process of running for office since you announced a couple of weeks ago?
SG: It’s been really exciting. I’ve worked on a lot of campaigns, but I've never been a candidate before. It feels completely different. I am completely flattered with the level of support I've gotten from people I've been in contact with. It takes a lot of work to run a campaign, but it’s nothing I’m unfamiliar with.
SWV: In your announcement, you really emphasized housing, both through your professional background and on the advocacy side. What do you think we should do about housing in Minneapolis?
SG: We have a real shortage of housing. In addition to that, we have a shortage of affordable housing. In addition to that, we have an acute shortage of deeply affordable housing. Those are all separate issues.
I have worked as a realtor for the last 25 years. I do own a business, Uptown Realty. I bring the perspective of a businessperson into this role. I like some of the things the city has done, like Avivo Village, which is a model for helping people escape homelessness. We need, as a council, to look for existing and new ways to access state and federal funding to help us bridge our financial shortcomings so we can provide all sorts of housing.
I really like the budget the city council passed recently. The affordable housing trust fund, the attention and funding going to that, I’d like to see that continue. I’ll work hard on all of those fronts.
SWV: What do you think about rent control in Minneapolis?
SG: I voted against the rent control charter amendment in the last election. I don’t mind sharing that with you. If we do it how St. Paul tried to do it, that’s a huge mistake and we can’t follow their example.
I do think that this is something we’ll be talking about. I want to be in the room when we’re having that conversation. I think there are a lot of consequences to a poorly-drafted rent control ordinance that can hurt all stakeholders, including tenants.
What we don’t want to do is draft an ordinance that stifles housing creation, gives landlords an incentive to not maintain their properties, and doesn’t pay attention to the actual intention of rent control, which is to stop some landlords, a minority of landlords, from gouging their tenants. That has to stop. But I’m not convinced rent control is the way to do it.
SWV: How do you feel about the Minneapolis Police Department?
SG: I recently met with the new chief, Brian O’Hara. I’m really excited about his vision for reforming the culture in the department. I like his ideas and I’m really anxious to support him and his vision for the department.
I also support the co-response to non-violent calls by social workers and drug abuse specialists and domestic abuse specialists. I don’t think that supplants the necessity of having a strong police department, and a police department that’s fully staffed with well-trained police officers that understand their role.
We need more police. Public safety is my number one issue as I run for council.
SWV: What do you mean by that? How would you approach public safety, as your number one issue?
SG: I think we need to hire enough officers to fulfill our charter responsibility. We are down at least 100 officers from that responsibility. That’s number one. We have to hire officers.
In order to do that, the chief and commissioner need to create a culture that attracts officers to our department. Both new recruits and officers from other departments. I think the City Council just needs to be there to support the chief’s vision. We do that through the budget, and by listening to the community, and keeping my ears open all the time to all communities and stakeholders in the ward and within the city about what their vision for public safety is.
SWV: Hennepin Avenue redesign has been a big issue. Lisa Goodman took a pretty clear stance on it. Where do you stand on the existing redesign plan?
SG: I’m really upset about it. Those businesses need parking. I do not think Hennepin Avenue needs its own dedicated bike lanes. I say that as a bicyclist.
I do like the idea of part-time transit lanes on Hennepin Avenue. If you look at the block between Lake Street and 31st, that looks like a failure for the businesses and the people that want to visit those businesses.
I agree that Hennepin Avenue needs some work. It’s in terrible shape. The lane lines are out of alignment. It is an important transit line. But as it’s conceived now, I’m not happy with the design.
SWV: When you think about part-time bus lanes, when do you think they should run?
SG: I don’t know. I’m not a transit designer or a transit expert. A big part of this job is knowing who to talk to about these issues, talking to experts, then forming my opinion. I don’t have one right now about when those bus lanes should run.
I like the idea that they’re part-time and focused on the highest demand hours. But I don’t have a specific notion as to the hours.
SWV: What parts of how Lisa Goodman approached the job would you try to copy?
SG: Those are really big shoes to fill. I’m going to be learning a lot. The one thing that the residents of Ward 7 have been able to rely on that I hope to replicate is constituent services. Councilmember Goodman has made it her business to invest her office in people’s issues, and to help them solve their issues. I want to try to live up to that reputation.
SWV: What would you do differently than Lisa Goodman?
SG: Honestly, I don’t know. I have a lot of respect for Councilmember Goodman. She has really served her ward well for 25 years. That’s an amazing accomplishment. She has a great reputation as a strong leader in our council. I can only hope to develop my own reputation.
SWV: What’s something you’ve learned from your business background that you’d like to bring to this job?
SG: Being a realtor, and doing it well, is really about listening to your clients and putting their needs ahead of mine. That’s exactly what the City Council is if it’s done well. I want to pay lots of attention to the people that live in the ward, and the various stakeholders and businesses that are downtown. All of the voices of the word need to be on my mind.
I really think it’s a collaborative, consensus-building job. I also think that as a business person, I understand how budgets work. I’m comfortable talking to people that run businesses, large and small, and encouraging people to start new small, home-grown businesses, which is really the heart and soul of our city.
SWV: An issue that doesn’t totally fall under the council’s purview, and as a result ends up being one that often gets ignored, is schools. If you got to change something about the city’s schools, what would you change?
SG: You’re right, the City Council doesn’t have a lot to do directly with the city’s schools. I think a big part of the job is collaborating with other units of government – school board, Park Board, county board, etc.
I do think the public school system in the city of Minneapolis needs improvement. I really want to be there for that. I’m going to start by listening and learning before I have any specific ideas about what they can do to improve our schools.
SWV: We’ve heard from a lot of people in Ward 7 this winter about snow removal from streets and sidewalks. Is there anything about how the City handles snow removal, be it through plowing or municipal snow removal, that you’d like to see changed?
SG: Minneapolis has 2,000 miles of streets and alleys that the city is responsible for plowing, and a lot of those streets are densely packed with parked cars, which makes our plowing responsibility incredibly complicated. Public Works is always going to be working to do a better job getting the streets plowed quickly and efficiently.
I know there’s been a lot of talk about sidewalk plowing or shoveling by the city. A typical annual budget for snow plowing is about 12 to 14 million dollars. An estimate I heard for doing sidewalk shoveling is 20 million dollars. That’s a large amount of money to be allocated for something that, in general, about 95 percent of our sidewalks are plowed well. We’re talking about 5 percent of our sidewalks that aren’t properly shoveled. Within that are populations that are able to get assistance from organizations that help elderly people or people with disabilities get their sidewalks shoveled.
We’re talking about a really small number of sidewalks that aren’t getting shoveled and a really large budget. I’m always here for the conversation, but that doesn’t seem like something I could get behind.
SWV: Are there any other issues we haven’t covered that you’d like to make a priority during your time in office?
SG: We haven’t talked much about our local economy. As we try to revitalize downtown and Uptown, we have a lot of challenges ahead. Our city is really at a crossroads. As large businesses potentially challenge their tax assessment downtown, we’re going to see that tax burden shifted on to homeowners, which means renters also.
We’re going to need strong voices on the City Council that understand how we create a fair taxation system and how we allocate our limited resources to get businesses open back downtown, and to get Uptown revitalized so that there are exciting places to go, eat, and play again.
I really think we can do this. I’m optimistic about the city of Minneapolis. I really think our best days are ahead of us. I really believe that. I moved here in 1991 because a friend told us that the music scene here was great and that it was a great place to live. She was right. We came here for shows by The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Trip Shakespeare , and Prince. That still remains what Minneapolis is at its core. It’s a fun, cool city full of amazing people.
My time in politics has allowed me to create relationships with tons of people. My business has as well. That’s what City Council is, meeting people and learning about issues that I may feel strongly about, or they may feel strongly about, and bringing their voices into City Hall.
City Council is really a grassroots job. It’s really about relationships with one person, or a group of people, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 25 years in my business and in my politics with the DFL. I’m excited to put that to work.
SWV: What’s something about you as a person that you think people may not know?
SG: I love music. I love all sorts of music. I love rock, and bluegrass, and country, and pretty much everything except opera (sorry opera fans!). I’m a serviceable bass player and a terrible guitar player and I love playing music. I love music.
Also, I’m an Eagle Scout.